Up Before The Sun: How I Stay Motivated To Get My Morning Runs In

One of the best things about summer in Sacramento is the wonderfully long days. The earth is lit up from the early hour of roughly 5 am, until just about 9 pm. For a warm weather worshiper like myself, this means HEAVEN.

On the flipside, one of the worst things about summer in Sacramento is the oppressive heat [if you live in Sac, then you can totally relate to the god awful heat wave we just experienced a couple of weeks ago].

For me, there isn’t much else out there that’s harder to motivate myself for than working out. I am usually able to justify that I have much more important things to do in what little free time I do have than going to the gym or getting a yoga session in.

Which is why I have to get my butt outta bed and get my heart rate up at the beginning of my day. I mean, it’s not as if I’m going to get up and craft something at 5 am..

But seriously, I understand how difficult it is to climb out of bed much earlier than you actually have to be up for your workday. I am the queen of turning off my alarm, setting a new one, and going back to sleep for an hour-and-a-half.

So, then, where do I get my motivation? How is it that I’m able to get out of bed at 5 am, Monday through Friday, and run 3 to 5 miles [aside from wanting a bangin’ ass bod]?

Here are a few of my tips on how I light a fire under my ass every morning:

Don’t sleep in your workout clothes. In my own experience, already having the clothing on when I wake up doesn’t get me any more motivated to get up and make use of them. Instead, I lay my clothes out the night before – that way I am forced to get up, get out of bed, take my PJ’s off and put my workout clothes on, all the while getting my blood moving and slowly helping my body come awake. I even lay out my clothes in the guest room so that I’m not tempted to hop back in bed.

Train your mind to accept the new wake-up time. I know how difficult this is. Believe me. More often than not, my alarm goes off and I think wistfully of the extra hour of sleep I could get if I just stayed in bed this one day.. But I know my body, and I know myself. One more measly hour will actually make me feel worse instead of better. And once you’ve woken up early enough mornings in a row, your body will get accustomed to the routine, and actually begin to wake itself on its own. Just resign yourself to the fact that this is your life now – this is your schedule. Plus, once you get your workout done, you could potentially be done for the day! [Sidenote: having a dog that exercises with you is another helpful wake up tool. Bella is accustomed to our early schedule – at roughly five minutes to five, every morning, I hear her climb off the couch, shake her head, and come clattering to the end of the hallway to sit and whine until I get up. Hard to ignore, and a total guilt trip if I don’t at least exercise my poor doggy.]

Make sure you leave yourself enough time to stretch thoroughly before you exercise. I can’t stress this enough! I have had far too many injuries from not prepping my body correctly for a run. I am prone to weak ankles and also suffer from tight hips, which for a runner are a couple of doozies. When it’s really cold out I spend 15-30 seconds stretching each muscle that is impacted by running. It helps to wake my muscles and warm them up a bit. Supposedly we aren’t supposed to stretch until after we’ve done a warm up, but I know my body well enough to know what it needs – and it needs to be stretched before physical activity. [You should also stretch and/or foam roll after runs and workouts.]

Do some breathing exercises before you hit the pavement. This has helped me tremendously. Especially in the early days when I’m just getting back into running, whether I’ve taken a few months off or was forced to take a couple weeks off due to a cold or the flu. I always struggle the most with getting my lungs back into shape [they say it takes a full week to get your endurance back]. If I find myself gasping for air mid-run, I try and focus on getting back the control of my breath. Even though it’s extremely difficult, I force myself to breathe deeply while I run, in through the nose, out through the mouth. I find that filling the chest and the belly full of air, and then forcing it all out, really helps me to regain my endurance. I also suggest slowing your pace a bit. Since I run with Bella who always tugs me along a little bit, I tend to be unaware of how swiftly we are moving. Often times that is a contributor to why I get so short of breath.

Invest in some decent workout clothes! I cannot stress this enough. The last 15ish years I have been working out in scrubs – old cheer shorts, worn out t-shirts from soccer tournaments in my teens, or sorority shirts from my early twenties. Oh, and shoes that are so old that they’re coming apart at the soles. Nothing makes you feel crummier than throwing on old shit and trying to get motivated. I know workout clothes can be expensive these days. And I know how painful it is to have to spend money on something expensive that you’re just going to sweat in. But honestly, you feel SO much better about yourself if you feel good in what you’re wearing. It’s such a silly concept but for me it’s proven to be true. I am always replenishing my supply, and I definitely always ensure that my shoes are up-to-date and are going to provide me with proper support. For those of you who think it’s “cool” to wear Chucks [Converse] to the gym – it’s not!! You NEED more support than that, even if you’re just pumping iron or doing low impact cardio. I go to Fleet Feet to get my shoes – they fit you for runners according to how you walk and stand and how narrow or wide your feet are. [Sidenote: because athleisure is such a “thing” now, so many stores are carrying athletic apparel. Target actually has some great clothes for a reasonable cost.]

Purchase a fitness watch of some sort. I am an Apple consumer through-and-through, so I, myself, am an Apple Watch wearer. FitBits are great, too – my fiancé wears one. Honestly, just getting a product that keeps track of your steps, your distance, and your calories burned is a game-changer. It’s amazing how motivating it is to be able to look down at your wrist and see your progress for the day. One of my favorite features of the Apple Watch is the ability to share your activities with other Apple Watch wearers [I believe FitBit offers a similar feature, as well]. So, not only can I track my own progress, but I can see how my friends are doing, too. My best friend, for example, burns anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 calories A DAY. Every time I get a ping on my watch that she’s completed another workout, it makes me want to hop out of my desk chair and do the same.

Let’s be honest – everybody is different. Obviously not everyone will be able to get up and work out before work or school or whatever it is that fills your days. BUT, if you’re like me and just need a little push in the right direction, the above are what have helped me to semi stay on track with my workouts. Find what works for you and stick to it as much as you can. And don’t forget that it’s completely okay to have off days. Yesterday I was too sore from Tuesday’s five miler and a booty workout to go for a run, so I just let my body have a rest day. And I felt great and ready to go today! Again, whatever works for YOU and your body.

Terminal Velocity

Since returning home from my five day trip to San Diego, I have made it a goal to exercise every single day. And it’s been much easier than I anticipated it to be.

In the past, when I’ve tried to build up an exercise regime, I have failed. Miserably. I’ve tried running in the morning before work or school, I’ve tried going to the gym in the evenings – nothing has ever stuck. And 100% of it had to do with me and my mind. How much did being healthy and in shape matter to me?

It didn’t. Not really.

Until now.

At 28-years-old, I know I am extremely lucky and blessed to still have my slender body type – and it’s no thanks to the amount of garbage I put in my body. I absolutely love food, and I’m very fortunate to have no allergies to it [well, none that I’m aware of]. I put anything and everything into my body, and I just hope and pray that I won’t blow up like a balloon. And my justification for all of this is, “Well look at that oversized human over there, at least I don’t look like that.”

This, by the way, is horrible logic. Just because somebody else doesn’t have a beanpole body type doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. Several of my family members struggle with thyroid disease and other reproductive diseases that make it almost impossible to keep weight off.

So to whom or what do I attribute my recent success at keeping a steady workout schedule?

Myself. My brain. My willpower.

Spending five days in San Diego really was exactly what I needed to get my motivation back. And I can’t actually say that it was the location, per se – I honestly think I just needed a break from the mundane reality I had come to know. Wake up – go to work – come home – take the dog out – come home – shower – eat – sleep. Repeat.

GODDDDDD. I’m bored to tears just thinking about it.

For me, the hardest thing about exercising has always been cardio. I have no problem doing lunges and weights and ab work – anything muscle building has never been an issue. I love the burn and I love the soreness that comes afterward. But cardio has always been the bane of my existence. So when I decided that I wanted to be more fit and start exercising more, I knew that I had to nip this little cardio problem in the bud.

I heard something on the radio the other morning – the DJs were talking about runners, and how some ridiculously high percentage of them, when surveyed, said that the only thing they think about while they run is how much they hate running. After hearing that, I realized that I have always been one of those people – I go for a run because I have to, not because I enjoy it in any way. I mean, who actually likes to pound pavement and sweat and be gasping desperately for oxygen? And all the while you’re trying to tell yourself, “You can do it. Run to that tree and then you can stop. Fuck. Okay, stop now. You’re not going to make it to the tree. At least you made it this far. Running sucks..” Yes. I know you are familiar with that inner dialogue.

So what was the difference for me this time around?

I think my issue in the past is that I have always made running [or cardio in general] about what it’s doing for my body physically. It’s shedding pounds, it’s getting me in shape. It’s making me healthy.

But what I’ve never noticed before, until now, is what it does for my mind.

When you run for the physical aspect, it’s a thousand times more difficult to get out of your own way. Your mind is going a million miles a minute, you can’t stop thinking about how taxing this is on your body, how much you hate this feeling and how much it sucks. But when you run to let off steam or to take the edge off of a rough day, THAT is when you will finally find some sort of release. That is when you will actually enjoy what cardio does for you.

On weekdays, my workouts happen in the evenings after I get off work. I’ve tried to get up before work and just get it out of the way, but I cherish a little bit of extra sleep in the morning when I don’t have to be up to get work done. And yes, the afternoons in Sac are hot, and yes sometimes I think that the last thing I want to do is go for a run after a stressful day at the office. But that’s exactly why enjoy it now – when I’m stressed at work, I can 100% count on running myself ragged on the road to bring me back to a calm state of mind.

This morning I set off on my run with both my dogs [Miss Roca is staying with me while she goes through her biannual heat cycle]. And I was eager to get my workout done so I could start my day. I woke up on the right side of the bed – I had the whole day ahead of me to do some shopping and get my errands done. I had plans to see a friend that I haven’t seen in a few weeks. And then literally two minutes into my run, the goddamn sidewalk jumped up, grabbed my foot, and sent me crashing and skidding across the ground. Nothing like throwing a wrench in my good mood. And at that point I had every intention of turning right around and stomping back to my apartment, but I took one look at my dogs and thought, “Fuck it. They need the exercise, and now I’m downright angry that this just happened.” And so I spent the next five miles running off every last ounce of stress and anxiety that I had accumulated in that split second of tripping and falling.

And it felt amazing.

I spent FIVE MILES out of my mind. Five miles just pushing myself because the anger hadn’t quite left my body yet. Five miles – and, upon returning to the apartment, I wasn’t even winded. The dogs were dragging behind me, and I probably could have run another five more. And not even for a moment did I have a single one of those “You’re almost there, just make it to that stop sign” thoughts.

And that, for me is a huge accomplishment.

The one thing I did think about, however, is that cardio, for me is, almost like terminal velocity. Once you hit a certain point, you’re no longer gasping for air, your muscles aren’t aching and tight with underuse. It just feels right. And it almost gets easy. Almost.

I can honestly and truly say that the only only ONLY thing standing in your way is you. And that goes for anything. We are all so in our minds all the time that we forget to just be. And I can truthfully say that if I am able to get to this place where I actually enjoy cardio, then you definitely can, too.

My advice to all of you, if you’re trying to find the motivation to get started on something, use what irritates you or angers your as a starting point. Make the upset into something positive – running off the anger instead of sitting at home and stewing about it. Let the exercise be your therapy.

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.